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Arkady Grudzinsky

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Would you prefer sales tax to income tax?

The power to lay and collect taxes is, perhaps, the greatest power of the government. With this power alone, the government can encourage or prohibit certain behaviors without passing additional laws - it can effectively ban alcohol, tobacco, firearms, etc., can coerce people to marry, to have or have no children, buy gas or "green energy", buy real estate, lock up their money for decades in retirement accounts (both policies make people return a large percentage of their income straight back to the banks withdrawing huge amounts of cash from circulation). Taxes inhibit the taxed activity.

I see several advantages of sales tax compared to income tax:

1. Sales tax inhibits spending, income tax inhibits earning. When money are taxed when spent, not when earned, it may encourage saving and investing rather than spending and incurring debts.

2. One can avoid paying a sales tax on discretionary items by not buying these items - sales tax is less coercive.

3. Sales tax on discretionary items appears to be self-regulating. When it is too large, people stop buying the taxed items, and the tax revenues drop. It's easier to determine the economic effect of sales tax and optimize the sales tax percentage. Whereas, the economic effect of changing income taxes is a lot harder to determine.

4. The tax code would be extremely simple - just a look-up table of tax rates (this may be a naive statement).

5. "Taxing the rich" would mean taxing the excessive luxurious lifestyle. Why would a frugal billionaire who leads a lifestyle of an average citizen be taxed more than an average citizen?

I understand, there is no "correct answer". This is why I post this as a debate. I'd like to know how many people think this way and to hear cases for or against both types of taxation.

Edited 4/13/2013: This seems to be a similar idea: http://www.fairtax.org

Topics: economy taxation
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Closing Statement from Arkady Grudzinsky

I'd like to thank everyone for the discussion.

There were good points made:

- that sales tax would make "the rich" pay smaller percentage of their income than "the poor";

- that no matter what type of tax we have, "the rich" will still have an opportunity to avoid it - either by spending money overseas or by making money overseas bringing into consideration the necessity of a uniform wold-wide taxation.

- A good discussion whether charity should be voluntary or compulsory and whether people should contribute to society voluntarily or forced to do so.

- Good references to other resources such as Mises institute.

- Interesting point in a video referenced by Krisztian Pinter that taxes have a way of distributing across all layers of society - often what seems to be "a tax on rich" becomes a burden on "the poor" bringing up the idea of a uniform tax (sales or income) with equal percentage for the rich and the poor.

- A good discussion with Pat Gilbert of how government intervention in free market creates artificial incentives and "bubbles" which are unlikely to exist otherwise.

These are just some points worth noticing. I appreciate having a civilized discussion on such highly politicized topic involving social justice, economy, and morality. This is where TED community stands out.

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    Apr 24 2013: Income tax should not exist, instead of making the average American spend hours trying to calculate income tax we could make it more simple and apply our taxes only to the goods and services that we buy. It would close the tax loopholes for the rich and everyone would pay their fair share. The wealthy would pay more in accordance to their income because they simply have the means to buy more products than those without such a high level of income.
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      Apr 24 2013: So what is fair about paying more because you make more?... that logic is lost on me.
      Everyone should pay the same rate...if you make more then you would pay more. That is as far as I can stretch the logic of fair share.
      Better if everyone would pay $20 a year to the governments to operate. The governments would then know or could pretty much estimate their income and budget accordingly. But, budget is a dirty word for governments. It implies restraints, planning, judicious use of taxpayers funds. None of this is evident in current governments spending.

      Right now, the governments, all of them, spend money first and then go out of their way to collect it or borrow it. It's not about taxing, it's about spending...
      Whether taxes are collect through sales or income, it really doesn't matter how either is more efficient or fair, it the funds are squandered and wasted.

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